Agenda item

Opposition Priority Business - Empty Shops

An issues paper prepared by the Opposition Group is attached for the Council to consider.


The Council rules relating to Opposition Business are also attached for information.


Councillor Laban introduced the issues paper, prepared by the Opposition Group.


1.              Issues highlighted by Councillor Laban were as follows: 


·       Acknowledging the difficult external circumstances within which the traders in Enfield Town were operating, it was felt that the problem should not be ignored by the Council: the shops were struggling. 

·       The health of the high street was very important to the community and it was an issue that had been raised on the doorstep, during the recent local government elections. 

·       The new Palace Exchange development had led to many of the previously existing shops moving to other premises in the new development, rather than bringing new shops to the area and increasing the offer, as had been hoped. 

·       The 2011 riots had had an impact on the town’s reputation.  Funding provided by the Mayor, that could have been used to improve the high street, had been spent by the administration on a market gardening project instead. 

·       The night time economy had declined over the past 20 years: much of it had shifted to the retail parks, with the building of the Southbury Leisure Centre where there was free parking.  The Dugdale Centre was one of the very few places providing evening entertainment in the town. 

·       In July 2018, the Opposition had raised concern about the increases to parking charges.  They had felt that the administration had not taken enough account of the impact that this could have on footfall.  Especially as there were other places nearby where parking was either free or less expensive.  The Opposition had argued in the past for a 3 hour free parking window on Sundays to boost shopping, but this had not been accepted. 

·       Other areas had been given much more regeneration funding than Enfield.  Edmonton Green had also been offered rate relief which had not been available to retailers in Enfield Town. 

·       Although there were proposals to improve the high street, in the Enfield Town Masterplan, it was felt that more needed to be done more quickly to boost the shopping and leisure activities in the town.  Councillor Laban hoped that the majority group would accept the recommendations in the paper. 


2.              Councillor Caliskan, the Leader of the Council, responded on behalf of the Majority Group highlighting:


·       Councillor Caliskan had initially welcomed the topic for opposition business but had been disappointed by the content of the paper and its sole focus on Enfield Town, ignoring other key shopping areas such as Palmers Green, Southgate, the Angel Edmonton and Edmonton Green. 

·       The current administration was keen to serve the whole borough, all the town centres and high streets.  They were looking at the overall strategic approach, to deliver improvement, whilst also allowing for bespoke place making for particular areas. 

·       The administration was in the process of developing a town centres action plan and would be consulting with traders, business leaders, councillors and everyone with an interest, on their priorities.

·       A number of meetings had already been held. 

·       The National context was grim.  One hundred thousand retail jobs had been lost since 2015.  Real wages had stagnated and a weak government with its flawed Brexit negotiations had hit consumer and business confidence hard. 

·       The 2018 Master Planning Framework had already set out the vision for the future of Enfield Town.  Stating the need “to preserve and enhance Enfield Town’s historic market town identity while helping to develop a town centre that meets future needs”.  The town needed more people, more jobs, more, better connected liveable spaces, more diversity (markets and street life), and crucially more evening activity.  An area it was felt had been neglected by the Opposition when in power.

·       Increasing footfall was a key to improving the town centres.  Current spending habits indicated that people were looking for experiences other than shopping.  Research indicated that spending on leisure and recreation was increasing therefore the town centres had to evolve to meet these needs. 

·       The Labour administration was committed to building a local economy based on experiences. 

·       The Leader would be meeting Deutsche Bank, the new owners of Palace Gardens and Exchange, as well as other business leaders and trader associations across the borough, to discuss how to work together to improve the retail offer and the evening economy. 

·       The new local plan would include a number of policies to support the development of the town centres including more residential development, to encourage a wider range of uses such as leisure, culture and entertainment and to bring in high value knowledge based industries. 

·       The administration would continue to invest in public realm improvements and was working on a £3m liveable neighbourhoods bid to fund these.

·       Officers were encouraging landlords to actively market their properties and to consider developing small businesses and co-working spaces, discussing meanwhile use options for vacant shops.

·       Since December 2017, fifteen properties that had been issued with enforcement warning letters had now been filled and 9 properties were being renovated.  Another 9 had been issued with warning letters to help persuade them to improve their shop fronts. 

·       There was a lot going on, but more to be done.  Christmas lights, as proposed by the Opposition, were not enough – although it was to be noted that the Council was contributing half the cost of these this year. 

·       Town centres thrived when people were bought together.  They were full of potential, and the Council would work to make them more vibrant. 


3.              Other issues highlighted during the debate were as follows: 


a.              The need highlighted by the members of the Opposition Group:


·       To acknowledge the frustration felt by local residents about the number of empty shops and the perception that the Council had taken too long to do anything about it.

·       To appreciate that other shopping areas, often along ribbon developments, had fewer empty properties.  This was thought to be because of lower business rates.  That the Council should consider offering business rate relief for Enfield Town businesses.

·       To resolve public realm issues, such as the recent problems with the lights on the library green, more quickly. 

·       To write to the owners of all the empty shops raising the possibility of converting planning permissions from A1 to A3 uses.

·       To look at what other boroughs, such as Islington, had achieved in the development of their night time economy.

·       To acknowledge the problems caused by more people shopping online and the lack of free parking.

·       To set up a new task force involving retailers to encourage short term solutions, to attract specialist retailers and pop-up start-ups.

·       To recognise that increasing residential properties by building more tall buildings would detract from the traditional character of the market town.

·       To acknowledge that recent decisions on parking matters such as the loss of the Genotin Road Car Park and the increase in parking fees should be re-considered. 

·       To acknowledge the shortage of large anchor stores, the over dependence on chain stores and the lack of independent/specialist shops in the town. 


b.              The need highlighted by members of the Majority Group:


·         To recognise the issues caused by Government policies which had led to the problems on the high street, including reduced business confidence, the flat lining of the economy, the rising cost of living, low wages, the rising wealth of the richest 1% at the cost of everyone else.  The high street could not be fixed until the economy was fixed. 

·         To understand that introducing a decent living wage and allowing strong trade unions would go some way to improving matters. 

·         To welcome the setting up by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee of a workstream to look at the problem.  It was hoped that the Opposition would work with members on the majority side, on a non-political basis to put together some good recommendations on how to increase footfall; including the possibility of creating restaurant hubs and improving the night time economy.  In Enfield Town there was currently only one cappuccino outlet open in the evening. 

·         To recognise that more provision for children was needed and more work had to be done to make shopping more pleasurable; to attract people away from on line shopping.  There were many different ideas and solutions to be investigated. 


4.              At the end of the debate Councillor Laban summed up on behalf of the Opposition Group as follows: 


Councillor Laban said that she would not apologise for focussing on Enfield Town, as this was the borough’s primary shopping centre and where many of the empty shop units were.  The opposition cared about the town centre and felt that action needed to be taken now.  It could not wait for the Master Plan to be agreed.  She hoped that the new administration would vote in favour of the opposition’s recommendations. 


4.       Councillor Caliskan then summed up on behalf of the majority group responding to the recommendations in the Opposition Priority Business Paper:


Councillor Caliskan concluded by saying that some of the recommendations were fine and some were already being carried out.  However she felt that this was not the best of the opposition business papers, as it had no real depth. 


She felt that there was a lack of commitment from the Government over the redistribution of business rates.  She was willing to respond positively to the ideas in the paper and the Council would be doing much more than the Opposition proposed, including funding half the cost of the Christmas lights.  She felt that increasing the density of housing in the area was part of the solution, as it would bring in more people. 


The debate ended without a vote. 

Supporting documents: